The Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies supports dozens of fellows and graduate students each year who conduct intensive research at Princeton. Seeger Center faculty as well as former fellows and students have published hundreds of books with leading publishers and thousands of articles. Their scholarship reflects the broad, interdisciplinary nature of Hellenic studies, spanning fields from history to religion to literature and periods from antiquity to the present.

In the June 4, 2024, edition of Director’s Bookshelf, Seeger Center Director Dimitri Gondicas speaks with Katerina Stergiopoulou about “Modernist Hellenism: Pound, Eliot, H.D. and the Translation of Greece,” published by Cambridge University Press in 2024. Stergiopoulou’s work focuses on questions of translation and especially on the many afterlives of Greek antiquity in twentieth-century literature and thought. Stergiopoulou is an assistant professor of Classics and the Stanley J. Seeger ’52 Center for Hellenic Studies and earned her Ph.D. at Princeton in 2014.    

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did this book project begin?  

It started as a seminar paper on American modernist poet Ezra Pound, which then turned into a dissertation on translations and adaptations of Greek tragedy by Pound and another important American modernist, H.D. I expanded the book version significantly by adding T.S. Eliot and undertaking more extensive archival research. While my dissertation focused on the translations, I asked a broader question in the book: What is the role of (ancient) Greek in the development of Anglo-American poetic modernism? As a result, I spent a lot more time examining the interrelations between translation and “original” work. I argue that we can’t fully understand the major poems of Pound, Eliot, and H.D. unless we take full stock of their engagement with ancient Greek texts in their other writings. 

Please tell us about your experience at the Seeger Center as a graduate student at Princeton and as a faculty member.

The Seeger Center has been foundational for my academic career. I was mentored and supported as a graduate student and given the opportunity to teach the Elementary and Intermediate Modern Greek language sequences over the span of several years. This was my first big teaching responsibility, and it has shaped me as a teacher in the language classroom and beyond. I was delighted to return to Princeton in 2017 as a member of the Classics Department, and I have enjoyed fostering a closer collaboration and relationship between the department and the Seeger Center. I am proud and honored to have been part of the Seeger Center when the new graduate certificate and undergraduate minor in Hellenic Studies launched and to have co-taught with Jack Tannous the first iteration of the Princeton Hellenic Studies gateway course for the minor, “Hellenism: The First 3,000 Years.” I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity, through Seeger Fund support, to take three groups of first-year students to Athens as part of my freshman seminar on “Modernity and Myth.”

How did participation in the Seeger Center’s academic community impact your work as a whole and this book project? 

I have benefited tremendously from the many connections I have made and conversations I have had at the Seeger Center. From informal chats at the Monday lunches to invigorating talks and seminars on all matters Greek, the Center has been instrumental to my development as a scholar. It has pushed me to think about reaching a broader, interdisciplinary audience and has given me a range of valuable opportunities to present my work, both in Princeton and in Athens.

What would you like your readers to learn?

First, I hope the book will convey the full significance of ancient Greek literature to modernist poetry. While individual instances of Greece’s importance in modernism have often been acknowledged, my book shows just how thoroughgoing an influence it was for the major figures in modernist Anglo-American poetry: Eliot, Pound, and H.D. In ways we still haven’t fully grasped, ancient Greek lyric and tragedy shaped modernism at several critical points in its development. Secondly, I hope the book will give readers a new sense of H.D.’s significance in the canon of modernist writers. She was not a minor figure; she laid the groundwork for an engagement with Greek texts that became pivotal for Eliot and Pound. Finally, I hope that readers will come away from the book with a fuller and richer sense of the scope of poetic modernism itself, which I trace from its beginnings in the imagist moment of the early 1910s through to Pound, Eliot, and H.D.’s continued correspondence, and continued fascination with Greece, in the 1950s. 

A transformative journey to Greece inspired Stanley J. Seeger to found Hellenic Studies programs at Princeton. Please tell us about a journey that expanded your intellectual horizons or influenced your research. 

Visiting Greece with my students, many of whom had never previously traveled outside the U.S., was an eye-opening experience. The questions they asked, the things they noticed, the connections they made between text and context, and the projects that resulted from the trips made me see sites, museums, and objects I thought I knew well in a completely new way. I was delighted to see students develop an awareness of the long, layered history and the great variety of Greek culture by walking around Athens or visiting the Benaki Museum. I hope that it inspires them to return. It was exhilarating to have the chance to be a guide and interlocutor for students visiting Greece for the first time, to plant a seed that could become a passion as deep as Stanley Seeger’s.

You will start a new position in the fall. Please tell us about your new role.

I will be a lecturer in Modern Greek in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. I am excited to apply the skills in program- and curriculum-building that I honed at the Seeger Center to a new context and help establish Edinburgh as a hub for Hellenic studies. I very much hope that I’ll be able to keep communication and collaboration channels open with Princeton and the Seeger Center.

Photos of Dimitri Gondicas and Katerina Stergiopoulou by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy.


To read previous Director’s Bookshelf interviews, please visit our archive.

To learn more about books by members of the Princeton Seeger Center academic community, please visit our Publications page.